Me with Colin on our bar trip in Thailand, 2015
I haven’t written here in a long time, because being Black in America has been kicking my ass. But I’m writing this out of pure anger, because sometimes, that’s all you’ve got. On May 30, my friend Colinford Mattis was arrested. This was following Black Lives Matter protests over the murder of George Floyd in New York City. He, and others, were accused of throwing a molotov cocktail at an empty police car. No one was injured. Colin, and another lawyer, now face “life in prison on the seven-count indictments, charging them with the use of explosives, arson, use of explosives to commit a felony, arson conspiracy, use of a destructive device, civil disorder, and making or possessing a destructive device” according to a NY Post article. Colin and I have laughed together and traveled together, starting our careers as young lawyers wanting to make a difference, and now he faces life in prison over a police car. My blood is HOT.
Derek Chauvin, the man who murdered George Floyd on camera in broad daylight (and sparked these protests) with not a single care in the world, was granted bail last week. Chauvin faces three separate charges: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, for which the maximum penalties are prison terms of 40, 25 and 10 years respectively. Those would likely run concurrently, if he is found guilty and sentenced to any prison time at all.
While Colin, and the others accused alongside him, were initially granted bail, the court system did what the court system does so frequently, and easily gave in to prosecutors’ request to revoke bail because of the supposed “continued danger” that Colin poses to society. What our country is saying loud and clear right now is that a POLICE CAR is worth more in this country than the life of a Black man. If someone would dare to defile an automobile owned and operated by a borderline terrorist cult, then that is more dangerous than squeezing the life out of a human being in the middle of the street.
That is the country we live in. And I’m fucking pissed.
When people have a knee-jerk reaction to the concepts of defunding the police and abolishing the prison system, it’s important to ask why. Why do we believe we need prisons and police, even though we have seen over and over again that they do not serve us? That they value the property they use to terrorize us more than our own lives? The police are portrayed as valiant protectors. But for whom?
Not for the Black communities that they over-police and harass. Not for the inordinate number of Black people they murder every year. Not for the minorities that they stop and frisk at excessive rates. Not for the brown people that they arrest on bullshit charges like “resisting arrest,” and jail just long enough to potentially ruin their lives due to arrest records, loss of employment, court appearances and fines, etc.
The very practice of bail is racist and unfair. While a pandemic rages across our nation, we allow people to remain in jail without having been convicted of any crime at all; the only way that this can be interpreted is that we don’t care about their lives. We would rather let them die than allow them to escape this system. This system that does not value our lives, but rather our labor and our continued subjugation.
Every single step of the criminal justice system is soaked in racism. Laws are put on the books that specifically target our demographic and neighborhoods (e.g. loitering laws). The police are trained to focus on “crime” in Black and brown areas. They are also given free reins to demean and discriminate against those communities. They over-police our neighborhoods and arrest us for the same behaviors that they turn a winking eye at in white areas. Black people are funneled into the criminal justice system at higher rates, and are less able to escape because of the lack of resources ensured by slavery, Jim Crow, and continued systemic racism. We are overcharged by prosecutors who view us as easy wins for their conviction stats or animals who must be removed from society. We are denied bail, or our bails are set out of our reach, such that we lose our housing, jobs, families, and livelihoods waiting for release. We are terrorized, murdered, and unprotected in the inhumane prison system. We are pushed into plea deals that leave us with criminal records, just so that we can have the prospect of leaving the system sooner. And then those criminal records make it less likely for us to find new jobs or housing, and more likely to end up repeating the cycle. That is the broken cycle of racist “justice” in this country, and it must stop.
I don’t claim to know everything about prison abolition or defunding the police, but I do know that a system that allows for a white man who has previously killed other brown people to murder someone in the street and face a lesser sentence than a Black lawyer who is accused of damaging property is BROKEN. Maybe it’s not even broken, if this is what it was designed to do. But it’s wrong. And we have to break it apart and build something new.
Sorry this isn’t about books. This is about life, and being able to continue reading and enjoying books despite inhabiting Black skin. I’ve donated to Colin’s support fund, and I’ve also compiled a list of resources to help people learn and act in support of Black Lives. And I will fight every day to disrupt this racist bullshit system.